Our Made in America, back on the Parkway

J. Cole, one of the leading young lions in rap.
J. Cole, one of the leading young lions in rap. (TIM P. WHITBY / Getty Images)
Posted: August 30, 2014

This weekend, the third annual Budweiser Made in America festival will take place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

So what's new and different at this year's Jay Z-curated gathering?

For one thing, for the first time neither Jay Z himself, who headlined in 2012, nor his missus, Beyoncé, who was the top attraction last year, is officially on the bill. One would hope the hip-hop kingpin would make an appearance, however, maybe with his close associate Kanye West, who headlines Saturday night. After all, Kanye did the same for Jay in 2012.

And with Made in America expanding to Los Angeles this year - where it will also be going all day Saturday and Sunday, three hours behind - festival attendees may be feeling a little less special this weekend. Philadelphia needs to know Hova still loves us.

Speaking of L.A., West is one of five acts who will perform in both cities. It's not quite the same as Phil Collins crossing the Atlantic to play Live Aid in London and Philadelphia on the same day in 1985, but it does show dedication. Thankfully, we'll get Kanye while he's still fresh, before heading to L.A. The other four jet-setters are DJs: Steve Aoki (known for dousing fans with champagne and pummeling them with cake) and Dutch producer R3hab, will play Philly on Saturday. Brit Gareth Emery and Aussie duo Cut Snake will take the red-eye to perform here on Sunday.

And for those who pay for tickets to see the show in Philadelphia but are dying to witness L.A.-only acts like Iggy Azalea, Juanes, and Weezer, there will be a viewing area to see how the other half is living.

In addition to the acts singled out below, there is plenty of other intriguing action, including copyright-flaunting mash-up master Girl Talk, Detroit rapper Danny Brown, cerebral Brooklyn rockers the National, old-school rapper Big Daddy Kane, Southern arena-rock band Kings of Leon, Dutch DJ Tiësto, postmodern soul-pop practitioner Mayer Hawthorne, Fun spinoff band Bleachers, and Canadian electro duo Chromeo.

Check out the complete schedule with set times in this section, or online at madeinamericafest.com.

Here are a bunch of likely highlights:

Kanye West. What will the irrepressible Mr. West be up to this year? In 2013, he released Yeezus, the most divisive, aggravating, and brilliant album of the year. After putting his audience through that noisy test of loyalty, and wearing various masks through most of the highly theatrical "Yeezus" tour, it seems it's time to make some more crowd-pleasing music that perhaps reflects on the domestic bliss the rapper-producer enjoys with his shrinking-violet wife Kim Kardashian and baby North. Maybe that's why West is (rumored to be) collaborating with Sir Paul McCartney. Will Macca join West on stage? Is Yeezus bigger than the Beatles? Whatever happens, it won't be boring. (Saturday at 10:30 p.m.)

J. Cole. "That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend. I'm tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men." North Carolina rapper and singer J. Cole wrote those words in the introduction to "Be Free," his piano ballad that was the first of what certainly will be many pop artists' musical reactions to events in Ferguson, Mo., this month. Cole's second album, 2013's Born Sinner, made it clear he's one of the leading young lions in rap, and the gravitas the 29-year-old Jay Z protégé has shown with "Be Free" will assure that all eyes are on him during his MIA set. (Saturday at 7:30.)

Philly Indies. With each year Made in America is getting better at representing the strength of the fecund Philadelphia indie scene. The addition of the Skate Stage - positioned smack in the middle of the Parkway, and not in Paine's Park on Schuylkill Banks, which is outside the MIA footprint - helped a great deal with that.

This year, a pair of local luminaries have earned afternoon main-stage slots: the Kenny Vasoli-fronted "nu-hula" tropicalia pop band Vacationer, and racket-raising hardcore punks Pissed Jeans, who are set to rerelease their mid-00s EPs Shallow and Hope for Men on the SubPop label this fall. Dominic Palermo's metal-edged dream-pop band Nothing - whose Guilty of Everything on Upper Darby's Relapse Records is a 2014 standout - highlights the Skate Stage lineup. Also flying the local flag: South Jersey pop-punks Man Overboard, Philadelphia interracial rap duo OCD: Moosh & Twist; Scranton punks the Menzingers, and Philly pop band Cruisr.

Pharrell Williams. Yeah, I know you've had it with "Happy." But don't begrudge Pharrell Williams his extended period of ubiquity. Along with his Neptunes production partner Chad Hugo, Williams has been a behind-the-scenes and sometimes in-front-of-the-camera hit maker since the early 1990s, and his distinctive near-falsetto has been one of the most immediately identifiable voices in hip-pop for nearly as long. It's just that in the last year or so, between his roles in the dueling summer of 2013 songs "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk and "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, plus "Happy" and the new single "Come and Get It Bae," neither he, nor his ridiculous hat, can be avoided. (Sunday at 7:30.)

Grimes. Incredibly, Grimes - the Canadian electronic songwriter Claire Boucher - is the only solo female or female-fronted act on the entire Made in America Philadelphia lineup. (Is that possible? Is Jay Z really that gender clueless? Maybe that's what Solange was beating him up about in that elevator showdown.) At least Hova displayed good taste in the one booking he made. As she showed at last year's Roots Picnic, Boucher, whose "Oblivion" was just named the best track of the decade so far by online music site Pitchfork, is a bountifully talented constructor of kinetic, experimental dance pop that draws from a multiplicity of sources. (Sunday at 5:15.)

Spoon. This Britt Daniel-led Austin, Texas foursome are the most dependably excellent band in indie-rock. They're masters of minimalism that's never too arty, but is instead always sashaying forward in not-a-note-wasted arrangements. After the slight disappointment of 2010's Transference, Daniel moonlighted most effectively with the keyboard-heavy side project Divine Fits, and some of that slippery mojo has effectively rubbed off on the terrific new Spoon album, They Want My Soul. (Sunday at 6.)





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